Mekeo language

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Native to Papua New Guinea
Region Central Province
Native speakers
19,000 (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mek
Glottolog meke1243[2]
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Mekeo is a language spoken in Papua New Guinea and had 19,000 speakers in 2003. It is an Oceanic language of the Papuan Tip Linkage.[3] The two major villages that the language is spoken in are located in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. These are named Ongofoina and Inauaisa.[4] The language is also broken up into four dialects: East Mekeo; North West Mekeo; West Mekeo and North Mekeo. The standard dialect is East Mekeo.[5] This main dialect is addressed throughout the article. In addition, there are at least two Mekeo-based pidgins.


Mekeo employs a relatively simple system of phonology which consists of 10 consonants and 5 vowels. The following tables identify both the consonants and vowels present in Mekeo.


Bilabial Linguolabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k Ɂ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative f s
Lateral l

Note that the table above displays the range of consonants used in East Mekeo which is classified as the standard dialect. North West Mekeo, West Mekeo and North Mekeo each have slightly different consonants included in their dialects.[6][7]


Mekeo has five vowels, shown on the table below:

Front, Unrounded Central, Unrounded Back, Rounded
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


Pronoun and Person Markers

In Mekeo, personal pronouns primarily refer to humans, however the third person forms can also be used for animals and other objects as well. Mekeo uses a range of different pronouns for different situations. The following table shows all the main personal pronouns for East Mekeo. This includes unmarked, emphatic and reflexive personal pronouns. Note, that the emphatic pronouns are not common in East Mekeo as they compete with another more common topicaliser, au-ŋa. For example, the preferred form for the first person singular would be lau- au-ŋa.[8] In the following table, 1, 2 and 3 indicate the person, SG and PL indicate whether the example is singular or plural and I and E stand for inclusive and exclusive.

Unmarked Emphatic Reflexive
1SG lau lau-ŋa Ɂifo-u
2SG oi oi-ŋa Ɂifo-mu/Ɂifō
3SG isa isa-ŋa Ɂifo-ŋa/Ɂifo-ŋa-mo
1PL.I iɁa/isa iɁ-ŋa/isa-ŋa Ɂifo-Ɂa
1PL.E lai lai-ŋa Ɂifo-mai
2PL oi oi-ŋa Ɂifo-mi
3PL isa isa-ŋa Ɂifo-i/Ɂifo-Ɂi

Examples:[9] The following examples demonstrate the use of some of the above personal pronouns in context.

S/he is one of a kind.

Maa-mu umu koà lopia-ŋa
Eye-2SG charcoal likeness beautiful
"Your eyes are beautiful, like charcoal."

Oi, nao koa, ioi-mu
2SG European likeness same-2SG
"You are like a European."

ia 'e-lao afu ioi-na e-lao
elsewhere 3SG-go place different-3SG 3SG-go
"He has gone elsewhere."

Possessive Constructions

Possession in Mekeo has two morpho-syntactic distinctions: direct or indirect constructions. Direct possession concerns kinship relations and ‘part of a whole relations’ and these kind of relations are cultural in origin. Indirect possession covers a more general possession of alienable property.

Direct possession

Direct possession relies on relational terms that often form closed subsystems such as kinship terms. In Mekeo, the two relation terms involved in each equation, are joined by another term that operates like a transitive verb. The third term is the ‘relator’ and must be marked for agreement with one of the other terms in the equation. The relator follows the subject and/or the object. The relator is marked for the person and number of the second term or the object.[10]
Isa lau ama-u
s/he I father-1SG
He is my father

Indirect Possession

Expressing alienable possession in Mekeo requires the prefix E- and its various realisations (including zero). This morpheme is then optionally preceded by a free or bound pronoun and then the compulsory suffixed by a pronominal suffix which indicates the person and number of the possessor.[11]
Eŋaʔi-na lau e-u foʔama
that I POSS-1SG food
That is my (vegetable) food

The negative is expressed with negators maini, aibaia and laa'i

E-u foʔama laa'i
POSS-1SG food not
I have no food

The following is an example of an alternation of the cliticisation process

Inaʔina auŋa iʔa ʔa eʔa
this TOPIC we.(incl) POSS.1PL.(incl) house
This one is our house
Another morpheme to express possession is the location pronoun KE- (realised as ke or ʔe). This pronoun expresses location or place
Ke-u-ai pokama mako
LOC-1SG-OBL food much
I have lots of food

Trade language

Imunga Trade Language
Native speakers
Mekeo-based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog imun1234[12]
Ioi Trade Jargon
Native speakers
Mekeo-based pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog ioit1234[13]

Jones (1996) reports two forms of pidgin Mekeo used for trade: the Imunga Trade Language and the Ioi Trade Jargon.[14]

External links

  • Paradisec has a number of collections that include Mekeo language materials


  1. ^ Mekeo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mekeo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Lewis 2009
  4. ^ SIL 2004
  5. ^ Chung 1995
  6. ^ Jones 1998: p. 559
  7. ^ Chung 1995, p. 9
  8. ^ Jones 1998, p. 148
  9. ^ Jones 1998, p. 149, 155
  10. ^ Jones, A.A (1998). Towards a Lexicogrammar of Mekeo. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. p. 195.
  11. ^ Jones, A.A (1998). Towards a Lexicogrammar of Mekeo. Pacific Linguistics. p. 208.
  12. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Imunga Trade Language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  13. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ioi Trade Jargon". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  14. ^ Alan A. Jones (1996) "Privately owned Mekeo-based trade languages". In Wurm, Mühlhäusler, & Tryon (eds.) Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas, pp. 219–224. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Chung, J.-S. (1995). Orthography paper for Mekeo Language. SIL international, 1-21.
Jones, A. A. (1998). Towards a lexicogrammar of mekeo. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Organised Phonology Data: Mekeo Language. (2004). SIL International, 1-3.

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